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County commissioners discuss lease of county farm property

The 40-year lease of eight acres on the Washington County Farm to a church was again a topic of discussion at a County Commission meeting.
Although the lease was not up for a vote, and remains in committee because of concerns from the farm’s neighbors, Commissioner Frank Bolus brought it up Monday, saying the agreement could put the county at risk of a lawsuit.
“Does this violate the Constitution,” Bolus asked County Attorney John Rambo, who said this type of agreement lies in a gray area of precedents set in other separation-of-church-and-state cases.
Rambo said action concerning the land is an agreement, not a donation, and the park set to be built will be open to the public. But the fact remains it is an agreement with a church, which could violate the Constitution’s separation of church and state, he added.
“It could be challenged,” he said. “Then the county would have go to court and we’d be looking at considerable costs.”
In financial news, the budget committee will meet Wednesday at 9 a.m. to continue its discussions on the county budget. The schools budget was presented earlier this month, and the sheriff’s department budget is now in, too, said Commissioner Pat Wolfe.
As far as a schedule, Mayor George Jaynes said the commission would try to have something to vote on in August.
Mayor George Jaynes also added that 28,000 people in Washington County had not returned their 2010 Census forms, and he urged them to do so, as those numbers are used to determine federal funding for the area.
Director of Schools Ron Dykes updated the commission on the sales tax collections for last month, which he said are above the projected amount for the third out of the last four months.
Commissioners also heard an update from the health department, which has completely moved to its new building on Princeton Road. Officials with the department said everything has been running smoothly after some issues with long-dormant equipment were corrected, and they plan on holding an open house in the near future.
The county also passed a resolution recognizing the kick-off day for this year’s United Way campaign, funds from which help programs at the county farm and also provide $20,000 or more worth of shoes, clothes and food to the Washington County School System.
Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter Director Debbie Dobbs came before the commission to ask for funding to repair the large holes and ripples in the shelter’s driveway and parking lot, which has not been maintained since the shelter was built in 1986.
She said the city told her they did not have the fundinf.
Commissioners approved a motion to have public works do an estimate on the project and bring it back to the August meeting, after which they would approach Johnson City about sharing the cost.
Jaynes also said the commissioners should recognize all the work that State Rep. Dale Ford has been doing for the area in getting water to county residents and in acquiring road projects.
After the motion was made and seconded, Commissioner Frank Bolus raised an objection to the timing of the recognition.
“Is it not an inappropriate time,” Bolus asked Jaynes. “With the election coming up, doesn’t that send a message?”
The commission voted to pass the motion.